5 Things to Avoid When Sharpening

May 7, 2013

Over the years I have sharpened a lot of knives. Seriously, if you count the number of times I’ve helped friends with their field blades or sat down at a family members’ butchers block and got to work, I bet we’d be looking at numbers in the triple digits. I can boast that I’ve used just about every method and type of stone available for sharpening. I’ve even pulled smooth stones out of creek beds, just to see if it works (and it does!). Of course, this did not happen overnight. In fact, I’ve dedicated hours and hours of time and energy learning what to do and what not to do when knife sharpening.

I often attribute freehand sharpening to learning the piano. Some people are just naturally talented and pick up it up in no time, and others have to put in a lot of time, work and dedication. The same is true if you want to be able to consistently produce a sharp edge with freehand sharpening. There are also the “player pianos” of the sharpening world, such as the Controlled Angle Sharpening Systems and the Crock Stick Systems, where you need neither talent nor skill, you just set it up and it works.

Much like learning an instrument, free hand sharpening has “do’s” and “don’ts”. Whenever I try to teach someone how to freehand sharpen I often notice that people make the same mistakes or have the same problems when first learning to sharpen. So, for everyone beginning to learn freehand sharpening, here are a couple of things you might be doing that are counterproductive.


5. Distractions

Proper sharpening requires more than just your vision. For me personally, sharpening is more about sound and touch than anything else. Having distractions such as music, TV or other people can really mess up the rhythm of sharpening and which can make it difficult to create a usable edge.


4. Moving on to Finer Stones Too Early

An Edge doesn’t necessarily get “sharper” by using a finer stone; it gets more polished and refined. Your edge should be sharp (enough to cut paper) after using your coarsest stone. Too many people move on to finer stones before their edge is actually sharp. The result is a subpar, often “marbled” bevel.


3. Using too Few Strokes

You can get a knife reasonably sharp by doing “one stroke on one side, then one stroke on the other side, repeat.” But for a better more durable edge, the “burr” on the edge has to trade from side to side.  Use multiple strokes on one side, and then switch to the other side. (Repeat).


2. Not Understanding the Edge

This is the basic “look before you leap” scenario. To properly sharpen an edge you need to understand what type of edge you’re sharpening and how a sharp edge is formed. I suggest looking over some of my earlier post such as Knife Edge Grinds and Uses and Anatomy of the Knife: Fixed Blade Knives.


1. Using Too Much Force

The number one issue I see with people trying to learn how to sharpen is using too much force. Just the weight of your hands is enough, with the proper skill, to get a blade sharp. If you’re putting too much muscle into sharpening and not receiving ideal results then I bet that’s your culprit.


The keys to sharpening (like many other things) are practice, patience and knowledge. Keep experimenting and learning, but try to be aware of these five common sharpening mistakes and you’ll see better results every time. If you have any questions make sure to comment on this post and I’ll answer as many as I can.

Be Smart, Be Safe and Stay an Edge Above the Rest!



Category: Edge Knowledge


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